Business Small Business

How to get ahead in your journalism career

How to get ahead in your journalism career

For many centuries, journalism has been one of the most important professions in the world, responsible for informing everyday citizens of local, national, and global events of great significance. Of course, journalism has seen an incredible amount of change in the modern era, thanks to both the ever-evolving demands and tastes of the reader and constant technological revolutions. Yet the basic principle remains the same: to investigate stories of interest and report them to the public in a reliable, trustworthy, and engaging manner. But in the context of the evolution that has taken place in journalism in recent decades, how should someone look to begin a career in journalism in the 21st century?

In this article, we delve into the typical career path that a journalist might expect in the current day, highlighting the crucial role played by technology and also exploring various positions within the journalism industry and beyond. In addition, we also examine the types of education options available, the importance of experience and a positive attitude toward lifelong learning in constructing a successful career in journalism, and the skills required to negotiate this path.

A distinguished and evolving profession

Some experts argue that journalism truly began in 1556 when the government of Venice first published the monthly handwritten document Notizie scritte. However, the spread of the printing press throughout the 16th and 17th centuries actually made it possible to produce and disseminate information on an unprecedented scale and led the way to the mass communication of news that we see today. Journalism has seen plenty of evolution since this time, of course, from the great broadsheets of the 20th century and the advent of radio and television to the spread of international news media through globalization. In recent decades, the internet has once again transformed the industry, with the rise of independent websites that enjoy huge readership and plenty of influence, a 24-hour news cycle spread predominantly through social media channels, and real-time eyewitness reports posted online from smartphones and other digital devices.

With these changes, new forms of journalism have also emerged, with professions as diverse as sportscasters and radio presenters, bloggers, and YouTubers all responsible for bringing us information. And so have purveyors of news over the centuries also developed and evolved in form and purpose. Whereas in previous years, news was carried almost exclusively by major institutions dedicated almost exclusively to print journalism, today there are any number of possible outlets, with social media and tech companies such as Meta and Google helping to determine how we access our news and in what format, with entertainment, clicks, and digital advertising revenue often the main driving force.

Indeed, technology—always a defining factor in how we receive our news—has led to even more explosive developments in recent years. The rise of generative artificial intelligence (AI), for example, has already begun changing not only how we consume our news but also how it is produced in the first place. Though the true long-term impact of AI in journalism is still under debate, there is no doubt that it has the capacity to both be a highly useful tool for journalism and journalists—as a possible source of ideas and research—and a potential rival, given that it is already capable of producing articles and stories of its own. There is even a range of AI-generated newsreaders and presenters already ‘employed’ by a number of TV stations around the world. The extent to which artificial intelligence goes on to influence and shape the future of journalism cannot yet be determined, of course, but there remains skepticism about whether the technology really can replicate the more intricate workings of the human mind.

A talent for storytelling

In all likelihood, most experts agree that generative AI will probably pick up some of the lowest-hanging fruit in journalism and content creation, such as taking and reshaping news stories from other outlets or forming basic social media posts. At the same time, there should still be plenty of scope for ‘real journalism’—after all, who else is going to brave the hazards and risks of a full-blown war to deliver a vital frontline report than a journalist? How could an algorithm watch, process, and explain in an engaging fashion something as multifaceted and idiosyncratic as a basketball or baseball game? In any case, history has shown us that when technology closes down avenues in one area, it usually opens them up in another. Indeed, most recent studies indicate that, as a profession, journalism is still expected to experience positive growth in the next 10 years. So how can someone get into this kind of career, and how can they ensure they are prepared—at least as much as possible—for the future to come?

Probably above all else, it is essential to have a genuine passion for the basic tools and skills of journalism: reading, writing, and various forms of communication. Often, these interests may develop at an early age. Many journalists have, as a young child, sat at the breakfast table precariously perusing Daddy’s newspaper, or as a teenager, eagerly signed up to become a reporter in the high school organ. Others, of course, will fall in love with the idea later in life, and fortunately, it is never too late to learn as long as you have a certain degree of innate talent or aptitude. In almost every case, however, the choice to become a journalist is born out of passion.

In addition to enthusiasm for the world of news and writing, most good journalists also possess an innate curiosity for the wider world and are interested in getting to the bottom of things. Almost all journalists will read and write as much as possible; when it comes to writing, practice is everything. Naturally, to truly succeed in journalism, it is also necessary to learn a range of other skills, including carefully and meticulously researching any assigned topics, building up a network of contacts who can serve as sources and perhaps provide tips for new stories, pitching new ideas and stories to editors, and conducting interviews with a wide range of subjects. So, how can someone build these skills and acquire valuable practical experience?

The right preparation

Once someone has decided that a journalism career path is right for them, the next step is almost always to seek out the appropriate qualification. After all, most employees will be far more likely to hire someone who has taken the time to obtain a relevant qualification that helps them acquire the specialist knowledge and expertise required to succeed.

An Online Master of Arts in Journalism from St. Bonaventure University, for example, enables students to master the traditional skills of journalism, such as writing, reporting, and editing. In addition, depending on whether they choose to specialize in digital or sports journalism, they will also have the opportunity to develop expertise in the art of digital media, learn how to connect with audiences on a wide range of platforms, or develop the skills necessary to become a modern-day sports journalist by exploring a variety of different media.

With this kind of course, students have the opportunity to learn from highly experienced journalists and educators and work on a number of different projects in order to gain a broad understanding of the requirements and practical realities of journalism in the 21st century, from social media and podcasting to video reports, digital interviews, and proofreading and editing with the help of cutting-edge technology. The online nature of the course also means it is far more flexible than a conventional campus degree, making it the perfect choice for anyone with prior work or family commitments.

A wide range of professions

After graduation, most journalists seek an internship or a junior position at some news agency or organization. Though some graduates are lucky enough to land a job in one of the major news outlets like the New York Times, CNN, or ESPN, many will begin their careers in a local or online newspaper, where they can begin to truly develop their craft. While most journalists will try their hand at a wide range of tasks in the early years of their career, many will later look to specialize in a particular branch of journalism, perhaps focusing on specific areas of the news, such as politics, economics, the environment, or sports, or also looking to become experts in a particular type of media, be it print journalism, radio, television, or something entirely else.

In fact, in addition to conventional forms of journalism, graduates often move into several other areas, from becoming a communications specialist or social media specialist to a technical writer, video editor, or photographer. Some qualified journalists even go on to become writers or authors; in each case, however, they will be applying the fundamental skills and knowledge acquired in their training and education to further their career. Indeed, some trained journalists may also move into slightly different spheres if they find a liking for a particular area, such as content creation and content marketing, where they can perhaps combine their writing skills with technological know-how and the ability to influence people in a corporate setting.

Building experience and knowledge

Even graduates, of course, have much to learn, and experience is absolutely key in journalism. Many senior journalists will argue that it has taken many years to attain the right level through many hours of practice, repetition, and experimentation. Fortunately, many graduates will also be able to rely on the advice and guidance of their more experienced colleagues in their initial forays into the world of journalism, either through formal mentoring programs or, in most cases, by simply working together and receiving further instruction through editing, content analysis, and scheduled feedback sessions. In addition, they can also rely on the help of their peers.

In fact, when we consider the transformations that have impacted the journalism industry in recent times and the waves that technology such as AI and digital communication devices are making right now, it is safe to say that the ability to learn and adapt will continue to be absolutely crucial in this field. Of course, there are many ways to continue to learn. In addition to workplace training courses, some journalists also make an effort to attend conferences or other forms of meet-ups where they can share and learn about new ideas, while many will also return to formal education over the course of their career to help them update their knowledge and, in many cases, move towards greater or further specialization.

Self-learning and experimentation are also valuable parts of taking a positive approach to lifelong learning in the field of journalism. In addition to reading widely on the techniques of journalism, as indicated above, most journalists are also news junkies, reading and imbibing stories on a daily basis and, with a bit of luck and a lot of attention, picking up plenty of tips and ideas along the way.

There are also, of course, plenty of resources available online, including instructional videos, discussion groups, and even academic papers and scientific analysis. In each case, the underlying principle is the same: to keep moving forward and remain up-to-date with the latest developments in what is unquestionably a fast-paced and ever-evolving industry.

Comfortable in any medium

Indeed, flexibility is likely to be a key aspect of any journalist’s career moving forward. Today, having a keen eye for a story and the ability to write a compelling story on a particular topic is extremely useful in journalism—arguably essential—but rarely enough. Instead, most journalists are also expected to have an excellent grasp of any number of technology-related skills, from conducting interviews via video call software to sourcing and labeling photos from the internet, running social media accounts, linking, and blogging. For this reason, it is vital for any aspiring journalist to spend at least some time mastering a wide range of communication forms, as well as keeping an eye on the latest technological developments that could help shape the journalism of the future.

Indeed, it is rare today for a journalist to only work in a single medium, i.e., the newspaper or magazine. Instead, most of the highest-profile journalists today will also communicate through their X (Twitter) account, appear regularly as guests on various podcasts, and, in many instances, make guest appearances on TV and radio, both to help put their viewpoints across and boost their profile. In fact, some employees are likely to be almost as interested in the journalist’s number of social media followers and readership numbers as their basic writing ability. As a result, while it should be stressed that, in many cases, only a relatively limited level of technological knowledge is required, it is absolutely essential to remain open to the possibilities of new mediums and ready to explore their potential. If not, it will become all too easy to be left behind.

The path to success

Overall, despite the many challenges of the profession, from thriving amateur creators and AI-generated content to social media rivals and falling advertising content, journalism still remains an exciting and attractive proposition. Indeed, in the era of fake news and news conjured up by little more than a series of sophisticated algorithms, we arguably rely more than ever on people who remain capable of seeking out the truth and presenting the facts in an honest and accessible way. Fortunately, there are today a wide number of paths open to graduates of journalism schools, and in many ways, the options available have never been more diverse and wide-ranging.

In fact, tools such as social media have made it possible for even local news reports—whatever the topic, whether it be about government corruption, animal cruelty, or even the very initial outbreak of a revolution—to spread across the world and make global headlines in a matter of minutes. And the basic skills of journalism remain the same: determination, tenacity, a nose for a good story, and the ability to tell a compelling tale. As long as someone is willing to take the time to not only build their craft and master the basics of the profession but also to find an area that makes them passionate and identify the best medium through which to express it, they continue to have all the best prospects for a highly successful career.